CONTROVERSY flared earlier this year when the National Railway Museum announced that it was giving the LSWR Adams T3 4-4-0 No. 563 to the Swanage Railway. To many, including myself, giving away part of the National Collection was equivalent to handing over an NHS hospital lock, stock and barrel to the private sector.
However, on reading the small print, I quickly found that the agreement clearly states that the locomotive must, first of all, be offered back to the National Collection if the recipient ever decides that it does not want it any more. In other words, the T3 still enjoys National Collection protection, if only at arm’s length.
As part of its exhibits review under statutory Science Museum procedures, the NRM said that it was planning to ‘gift’ another locomotive from the collection. In August, as reported on Headline News page 6, it was revealed that the mystery locomotive in question was Churchward heavy freight 2-8-0 No. 2818. Several examples of this class have survived, although No. 2818 is the only one with its original inside steam pipes.
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I have long held the view that the ideal place to display or run locomotives and rolling stock is in their ‘home’ area, where they serve to reinforce local heritage. At the same time, I am also convinced of the merits of having exhibits representing railways from all parts of the country in a central museum like the NRM in York, where they can be accessed by everyone relatively easily. Someone from Lancashire, for example, who wants to see a Bulleid Pacific, does not have to venture all the way to the sunny South to do so.
Between these two stools there can arise a balancing act. To me, No. 2818 is like a fish out of water at Locomotion – it has no relevance to the North East and to many visitors it is ‘just another old steam locomotive’, welcome of course though that is.
However, at the STEAM museum in Swindon, this one-time, commonplace, workaday locomotive will become a cherished item in the part of the great works in which it was built, and given to the local borough council, it then has the potential to be cherished as the townsfolk’s ‘own’ engine.
The T3 is now back on native LSWR territory, at one of the country’s current ‘buzz’ railways. I look forward to the time when it is safely entrenched in a purposely designed museum building of its own, while being promoted both as a visitor attraction and a major educational resource in its own right.
Elsewhere in the country, its classic late Victorian outlines no doubt received admiring glances as visitors walked past, but at Swanage it can be polished as a gem and become a flagship exhibit, with total relevance to its new home. Dare I dream of it following in the footsteps of the sole surviving T9 and be returned to running order, maybe hauling a train past the stunning backdrop of Corfe Castle?
Yes, I would be truly livid beyond belief if either of these two classics had been given away by the National Collection with no strings attached. However, here I am erring very much towards the view that this is pro-active curatorship that will see both exhibits repackaged to inspire a new, if localised, audience, which is the main purpose of the preserving them in the first instance.
Elsewhere, the school holidays are back and within days, if not hours of classes breaking up, there have been acts of major vandalism at three railways, the North Yorkshire Moors, East Lancashire and Mid-Norfolk.
Any attack on heritage railways is the same as vandalism of historic buildings or ancient monuments. Heritage is there for the people, and these are attacks on us all.
The courts must ensure that the culprits, or their guardians, must repay the cost of rectifying the damage in full. That would not be revenge punishment for punishment’s sake, but it would send out a deterrent message, loud and clear, that if you wreck other people’s property, it comes at a price. That is true justice and so often its implementation has been long overdue.
Robin Jones, EditorEnjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine. Click here to subscribe.